My students are doing Julius Caesar in my English class. I don't know how many remember this Shakespearean gem but it's not the easiest play to teach. No teenage lovers, no cross gendered farces, or crazy sons seeing the ghosts of their fathers. No. A political drama. Sweet. So I bribe them by watching the TNT version of Julius Caesar to get them ready. I figure if I give them blood and gore, they'll let me hammer them with Shakespearean remorse for killing one's best friend.
While watching the movie this time (which makes no mention whatsoever of the Egyptian queen) I started looking up Cleopatra on my own. I mean, I'd seen the movie with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton and (clearing throat) Rex Harrison. So where did she fall in in the story? Through this little journey I found out a few facts I hadn't known before:
1.) Cleopatra was not Egyptian. She was Greek. In fact, the Greeks had controlled Egypt for three hundred years and she was one of the only rulers who had actually taken the time to learn the language.
2.) She was twenty when Julius Caesar marched in planning to take Egypt. He'd taken everywhere else and fresh off of the triumph of Gaul and having taken the armies of Pompey (his former son in law). He was 51 (a military leader. In Roman Times. 51! Incredible). She knew she couldn't keep him out so she went to meet him to welcome him.
3.) 9 months later, she had a son. A son! Julius Caesar and Cleopatra had a son -- his only son and one of his only children.
4.) When he marched Cleopatra and his son back to Rome, she became one of the most hated women in Rome. Even Cicero recorded the loathing of the people towards this mistress who was sure Julius Caesar would name her son -- his son -- as heir, that she would one day rule Rome. But then, the Senators stabbed him and Caesar had already named his nephew Octavius.
5.) When she went back to Egypt, she named her son "king of Kings" to spite Octavius.
6.) We know that Mark Antony came to her defense when Octavius marched on Egypt, we know that they became legendary lovers and that they both killed themselves when it became clear that Octavius would take Egypt. But did we all know that Mark Antony was actually married to Octavius's daughter?!
So. Cleopatra killed herself with an Asp and sent her son to a neighboring friendly country who sold him to Octavius who of course killed him. Or did he? It's interesting food for thought. No one actually knows how Caesarean met his end which is interesting considering that we know how everyone else ended their legendary times on earth. This was Caesar's only son and not just a son, a son with famed Cleopatra -- what a kid! So... the story goes that Augustus (Octavius) Caesar said "One Caesar too many" and strangled the 17 year old boy but... I'm not convinced. Why do it? Especially when you owed the kid's father everything? And he had no one and was only 17? Sure, he could have come back and gathered armies, if he survived
I like to think that we don't know how he died because Octavius wanted it that way. Because maybe the famed son of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar did live, that he did things we can't even imagine.
I like to think this because Octavius is grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrreeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaatttttttt grandpa. And Mark Antony is too. And Caesarean is my ggggrrrrreeeeeeeeaaaaaat cousin.